Elf the Corgi is now an only dog. Throughout yesterday and the day before she and her human, Emily, sat with their faithful companion of eight years, Opus the Dachshund-Terrier, in his final hours. He passed at home, in his crate, about 4:30 in the afternoon of April 17, aged fourteen years. There was a brief illness following a minor surgery.
We began our vigil the same day as Notre Dame burned, and as Emily’s conscious mind was busy watching the monstrous flames in horror the subconscious realization came that Opus was unlikely to recover. The following day, when it became obvious that Opus was drawing his last breaths Elf sat up straight and barked him out. Emily sat more quietly, saying prayers. He’d been really confused the last few days, so neither of them knows for sure if he was aware of their efforts to thank him for his steady companionship and let him know that he will never be forgotten. But they think he knew.
The small, anxious fellow arrived at Emily’s door back in Belen, New Mexico in August, 2010, to become Elf’s sharer in adventure, snuggles and — with huge sacrifice on the part of the ever hungry corgi — a small allotment of space in the kitchen for his food bowl — as far away from hers as it could conveniently be placed. He would lie meditatively in the sun on even the hottest high desert days while Elf noisily chased her jolly ball far and wide and Emily worked on her bonsai, read or watched the birds fly by.
He was the ying to Elf’s yang. Where she possesses explosive, purposeful energy Opus’s was banked down, more of a slow burn — usually. During his first several years with the small family Opus relished kamikazi lap leaping — flinging himself into the air and onto the lap of just about anyone occupying a chair when he entered a room. Or saw Emily in her wheelchair in the backyard. Elf, who never leaped on a lap in her life, would snigger softly to herself as Emily stuttered apologies to those several visitors who Did Not Care For Dogs.
When the threesome left New Mexico in June, 2016 to join Emily’s daughter in California’s Bay Area Opus showed his ingenuity and preference for snuggling close to a human over being zipped into a sturdy travel crate lashed into the back seat of a rented Ford Taurus. Ever so neatly the determined canine chewed his way around a zipper and popped proudly out to greet the humans upon their return from a rest stop. Odd how little they relished his joy in getting the better of that boxy prison all the better to be with them.
He and Elf really did not, do not to this day, comprehend why humans think so highly of the Grand Canyon. Such a fuss was made about stopping there for a visit on the second day of the trip. All Opus and Elf ever thought about it was how the place taught them an emergency skill — walking with just one paw on the ground. Many dogs had been brought in on that June day when the thermometer had risen over 106 degrees and it felt like the asphalt was trying to fry their paws. Elf and Opus were pathetically grateful when Emily decided to park her wheelchair beneath the shade of a little tree with a narrow view of the vast panorama beyond. Elf and Opus lay comfortably while the rest of the humans explored. Many a small dog passed them, pleasantly carried in the arms of their (sweaty) humans, while lots of large dogs went by trying to do that odd one paw down, three paws up trot.
In California Opus and Elf found their family expanding. Used to living with one rather reclusive human, their world expanded gradually as first Jericha, then a number of her good friends, took them for walks three times a day as they explored Mountain View and surrounds. Emily would roll along, too.
More importantly when Jericha took it into her head to marry the kind and generous young journalist Francisco and move to Fresno, they became the first animal family he had ever had. Both set to work to convince him of how Dogs Are The Best. Apart from their barking perhaps they succeeded. Now that the three humans share a house Emily does retain her doubts about the success of their efforts whenever Francisco has a headache and the dogs, oblivious, go into a barking frenzy when the doorbell rings or a dog down the street barks. Or somebody stands up, a door creaks… It is no small thing that Francisco and Opus formed quite a close bond, especially when it came to being comfortable on the sofa. Opus would joyfully kick both back legs when Francisco rubbed his belly.
All three humans accompanied Opus’s small body on his last trip, to the veterinary clinic. All three were red eyed as they thought about the spirits of humans and dogs, the differences between the species, the expectations of what may lie beyond the veils separating material existence from purely spiritual forms. How a little black dog who had been deposited into a New Mexico animal shelter to be euthanized at the age of six managed a reprieve from the needle at the very last moment, to end up with Elf and Emily. How he wriggled into the hearts of his new family members even though when Emily was in the hospital for a month his anxious side had him tearing out the rugs in his apartment… How his most treasured reward was to cuddle up to his humans, a situation he would readily choose over food.
Thus far since his departure Elf has been uncommonly quiet, mostly sticking by the side of her saddened human while the rest of the family is hard at work. She stared while her sleeping arrangement was altered, when Opus’s crate no longer stood beside hers. She sniffed her way along the paths Opus’s small paws had traveled in the endless pacing of his last couple of days. She squeezed up close to the human who had paused in the large living room to put her hand on the sofa just where Opus loved to lie. She popped up and down beside Emily’s wheelchair in the manner of corgis, and finally stood, paws on the footrest, to lay her head on her companion’s knee in a moment of sorrow for the small fellow who had just the right personality to make a perfect match in this family.
Godspeed, dear friend… Love goes on forever, you know.